Women’s Issues in Japan: Using ‘Little Miss P’ and ‘I Don’t Know How to Give Birth’ to Understand (Awkward) Cultural Differences

PopLurker would like to thank Yen Press for providing us with sample copies of Little Miss P and I Don’t Know How to Give Birth for review. You can purchase them directly from Yen Press or wherever your favorite books are sold.

Editor’s Note: This entire article is an opinion piece, up to and including the reviews of the manga in question. It is not meant to be a comprehensive conversation about the current cultural climate in Japan.

In the world of ‘Nerd Shit’™, there’s always been two truths about Japan– what the country and its culture is really like, and how consumers of anime and manga assume it is. In my 20+ years as an Oldtaku, I’ve seen hyped amounts of superiority projected upon Japan simply because of its media. And yeah, when you look at the country that created Macross and Gundam, sure, it’s easy to think that they’ve got it all figured out. Perfect robot, perfect country, right?

And while Japan has many things perfected in its country (they seem to have that whole public transit thing and ability to wrap up stories in animation thing down), there are some parts of the culture that are awkward. Like, agreed upon awkward. And for me as a (very distant) observer, the most glaringly clumsy parts of Japan definitely have to do with dating and women’s issues (such as menstruation and giving birth).

From my point of view, embarrassment has always been at the forefront of Japanese female modesty and gender roles. My best friend did an immersion trip to Japan in 2018 or 2019 and told me all about Japanese girls and how it’s considered proper for them to accept a boy’s request for a date and break it. For any reason, even if she isn’t busy. Other than that anecdote, I’m blatantly admitting that much of my perspective and information here comes from the anime, movies, and porn I’ve watched. But take a moment and think about it– how many pieces of media have you seen that start with a woman saying “No, don’t look, I’m so ashamed, now I’ll never get married!”

The answer from my experience is many. Which makes it even more surprising that adolescent Japanese girls are expected to give that cool boy in class a letter, a ritual called a Kokuhaku, admitting her feelings to him. That whole set up is crazy town.

Though I don’t agree with embarrassment, violation, or expected modesty it on a personal level, I’m sure there are elements of it that are so deeply rooted that I’ll never personally understand it. I’m very headstrong. I’m very aggressive. And when it comes to behavioral antics of gender and the acceptable ways men and women present, I’m often left snorting in amusement and basically…unimpressed. (But that’s a discussion for another snarky-ass-article).

Therefore, when Yen Press reached out to me asking if I wanted to review Little Miss P by Ken Koyama and I Don’t Know How to Give Birth by Ayami Kazama, I realized I’d never thought about Japan’s approach to feminine issues such as menstruation and childbirth. And as a westerner who bleeds and crapped out a couple of kids, I find this topic fascinating!

Before reading the books, I figured that Little Miss P would be corny and a little lame, filled with “Wah, I’m so bloated, grrrr, my PMS, no one come near me or touch me, I need ICE CREAM” tropes as is the status quo in American culture. I’m telling you– not everyone gets cramps and your period doesn’t always have to be some loud-ass show. It’s a part of American culture I wish would go away because it makes women look like gluttonous, lazy, screaming clowns. Painful, horrible periods isn’t something experienced by all women. On the flip side, I figured I Don’t Know How to Give Birth would be a gentle introspective look at the craziness that is pregnancy. And wouldn’t you know… I was wrong on both accounts.

Little Miss P

Premise: It’s that time of month, and you know what that means…a visit from Little Miss P! She always seems to show up at just the wrong time, generally armed with a heavy dose of fatigue and poised to deliver a barrage of beatings that leave her hosts physically and mentally exhausted. Though Little Miss P is often met with dread and resignation, the realities of a woman’s period are widely misunderstood-especially by those who haven’t been subjected to her gut punches on a monthly basis. Join Little Miss P-along with Mr. Libido, Mr. Virginity, and Little Miss PMS-as she visits women in a variety of circumstances, advising, harassing, comforting, and delivering more than one obligatory PERIOD PUNCH in this humorous, heartwarming collection!

In a nutshell, this book was hilarious. I absolutely adored the self-aware humor and the aggressive violence of Little Miss P’s ‘Period Punch”. The reaction of the women she clobbers range from complete surprise to a sigh and “Just get it over with”. It’s a collection of short stories that are super endearing. And come on, the personification of the period as this ridiculous little character who looks like a deformed version of Little Miss Hug is just too good.

She’s laughing because she knows you’re wearing white pants today and forgot your spare tampons in your other purse.

Ranging from stories of young women about to get their first periods, to lonely nerds experiencing their bleeds in isolation, I really liked the coolness of this book. There’s a second volume and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. This manga is so successful that it also spurred a live action retelling. I can tell by the unamused look on the actresses face that getting your period in Japan seems to be a (refreshingly) regular experience. (Again, as always, outsider very humbly looking in via one specific text).

I give Little Miss P 5/5 Lurking Thumbs Up

I Don’t Know How to Give Birth

Premise:

A humorous and heartfelt autobiographical comic essay of a manga artist new to the challenges of motherhood! Follow her journey as she learns the ins and outs of pregnancy and childbirth-and the impossibility of finding comfy maternity underwear!

I’m not quite sure what I expected out of this manga, but whatever it was, I don’t think it hit those notes for me. The art is very approachable and cute. The story is engaging and digestible. I was pulled into the tale of a sweet, nerdy manga artist who wants to give her husband (also a manga artist, but somewhat less awkward than our author) a baby. Low and behold, she has fertility problems and it takes them years to get pregnant. Eventually, on their second round of in vitro, the pregnancy sticks and the author carries the baby to term.

For a topic that is so deep, so all consuming, so exhausting (trying to get pregnant is no joke), the text is surprisingly shallow. Many things are glossed over, and only the, you guessed it, trope-induced cartoonish stuff is handled. (Wah, my underwear don’t fit! Maternity clothes cost too much! Yet somehow paying for in vitro out of pocket isn’t financial rape? Morning sickness joke! All the food in the room tastes fantastic!)

I think that the manga was written for older teens, and with that audience, perhaps that mild discussion of the fatty layer that floats on top of pregnancy is all they need to get the idea across. The author, either by her own choosing or by being a confused chick never lets us into her heart. Perhaps pregnancy isn’t an ethereal experience for everyone, but I was craving a peek into how it is handled in a culture that has a reputation for… well… not addressing or handling things out of embarrassment or cultural norms/expectations. Maybe a different manga could help me understand how the every day woman views pregnancy and birth. Because no, I’m not in the mood to read a reference book.

I give I Don’t Know How to Give Birth 3/5 Lurking Stars.

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